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CDC Strongly Urges Pregnant & Breastfeeding People To Get Vaccinated

The number of Covid-19-related deaths in pregnant people reached a new high in August, according to the CDC.

by Morgan Brinlee

After Covid-19-related deaths reached a record high in August, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued its strongest plea yet, urging pregnant and breastfeeding individuals to get vaccinated against the virus. Vaccination rates among pregnant people remain relatively low, with the CDC reporting just 31% of pregnant people are fully vaccinated either before or during pregnancy. To help boost that number, the CDC has urged health care providers to strongly recommend that patients who are pregnant, nursing, postpartum, or looking to become pregnant get vaccinated against the virus as soon as possible.

“The CDC recommends urgent action to increase Covid-19 vaccination among people who are pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), who are trying to become pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future,” the agency said in new guidance released Wednesday. “[The] CDC strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because the benefits of vaccination outweigh known or potential risks.”

According to the CDC, more than 125,000 pregnant people had been confirmed to have Covid-19 as of Sept. 27. Of those, 22,000 have been hospitalized and 161 have died. In August, Covid-19-related deaths in pregnant people reached the highest number seen for a single month thus far in the pandemic when 22 pregnant people died as a result of the virus.

“Although the absolute risk is low, compared with non-pregnant symptomatic people, symptomatic pregnant people have more than a two-fold increased risk of requiring ICU admission, invasive ventilation, and ECMO, and a 70% increased risk of death,” the CDC said. “Pregnant people with Covid-19 are also at increased risk for preterm birth and some data suggest an increased risk for other adverse pregnancy complications and outcomes, such as preeclampsia, coagulopathy, and stillbirth, compared with pregnant people without Covid-19.”

Healthcare providers have said misinformation and a lack of understanding about Covid-19 vaccines have contributed to low vaccination rates among pregnant patients. “I think most people who are pregnant are generally young and generally healthy, so they don’t really expect that if they were to get this infection, that they could be as sick as we are seeing,” Dr. Brenna Hughes, vice chair of Obstetrics and Quality at Duke University, recently told NBC News. “It’s surprising to me how few people realize it can happen to them until it does.”

The CDC has recently sought to combat misinformation regarding the safety of Covid-19 vaccines during pregnancy. Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stressed that studies and real-world data have shown the vaccines provide crucial benefits to pregnant people with very few safety concerns. “We are fortunate now to have extraordinary safety data with all of these vaccines,” Walensky said. “We now have data that demonstrates that vaccines in whatever time in pregnancy or lactating that they’re given are actually safe and effective and have no adverse events to mom or to baby. And we’ve actually seen that, in fact, some antibody from the vaccine traverses to the baby and, in fact, could potentially protect the baby.”

The CDC has urged healthcare providers who see pregnant and nursing patients to discuss the critical need for Covid-19 vaccines with them. “Reach out to your patients with messages encouraging and recommending the critical need for vaccination,” the agency urged. “Remind patients that vaccination is recommended even for those with prior COVID-19 infections. Studies have shown that vaccination provides increased protection in people who have recovered from COVID-19.”